Changing, Quitting, Starting.

“When I look back, it feels like I was at the borders of common sense, and the sensible thing to do would have been to keep quiet, keep going, learn to lie better and leave later. I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is small. For...

“When I look back, it feels like I was at the borders of common sense, and the sensible thing to do would have been to keep quiet, keep going, learn to lie better and leave later. I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is small. For the life-changing things, you must risk it.”

Jeanette Winterson

I initially scoffed (I honestly don’t know why, maybe I was grumpy) when Steph read this quote to me. It feels right now, though.

I quit my job on Friday. You should know that I didn’t just walk out and slam the door, I gave a month’s notice and had a great conversation with my supervisor that really opened my eyes. But I still quit. So far, it’s been the thing that has made our trip the most real, and it’s also been the most fraught part of our decision to leave. You can buy a backpack, you can buy gear, you can even start a website, but nothing quite drives the reality home like packing up the one thing that keeps you afloat. I know there are a lot of articles out there about quitting your job to follow your dream, and using that as a springboard to jump in (both feet!) to your adventure. These articles talk about making the decision to travel, they talk about packing up your life and moving on like it’s just a choice you make and that’s it. I know there are some people out there that make it sound easy, and only a few (that I’ve seen) really deal with how hard it can be to change your entire life in one fell swoop.

Quitting my job wasn’t just one step towards our goal of world travel. I mean, in one sense it was, but in reality it felt like THE step. When push came to shove, and it was time to give my notice, Steph and I found ourselves at a crossroad. I was apprehensive about the prospect of quitting, but I felt ready, for the most part. I’ve been at my company for nearly seven years and work closely with nearly every department in one form or another, so I wasn’t sure there would ever be an “ideal” time for me to leave. I had embraced the idea that I was leaving to start the next part of my life with my wife, the part we have been dreaming about for years, and I knew that this is what I really wanted, what I really needed. However, Steph was having doubts.

Over the last few weeks leading up to my resignation (much more dignified than “quitting”), and after Steph set the date for her dissertation defense, Steph and I had a lot of frank conversations about what we wanted to do. Should we really pack up and leave? Should we stay a year longer and save some more money, get a little more ready, be a little more prepared? If we stayed, would I still quit, or would I soldier on for a while longer? I’d be delusional and dishonest if I said that I was anything other than firmly in the quitting and/or leaving camp. I wanted to go. I felt ready and every part of my mind wanted to get on a plane and disappear somewhere foreign. I’d looked at my career and knew it would essentially be unchanged for as long as I stayed at my current job, and I didn’t want that. I was tired of what I did for a living, how I was doing it and needed a change. I was tired of Nashville. I was just tired, in every sense. I was making a lot of “I” statements. So, we made pro and con lists. We flip-flopped. We were sleepless.

Despite all this talk of “us,” there is something I regret: I wanted to go and Steph was ambivalent, she was of two hearts, and I think to some extent, as a partner, I may have let her down. I was (and still am) nearly blinded by my desire to get on the road and go somewhere else. As years pass by, my wanderlust only grows. When Steph and I talked about when we wanted to leave and she expressed a (wholly rational and entirely even-minded and fair) desire to stay that fought with her desire to go, I became selfish. I pledged that, if she needed more time here to save more money, feel more comfortable, whatever she needed, that I would support her. I really meant it, and still mean it. We’re partners and there can’t be a “my way or the highway” attitude. Unfortunately, I also laced my support with a clear disappointment about the prospect of staying. I wouldn’t be happy, but I would do it if need be. This was, to be blunt, shitty of me. It was petulant and I hid behind a veil of “just being honest.” It was true, I was deeply unhappy with my situation for a lot of reasons, none of which were anyone’s fault other than mine, and I went about dealing with it in the wrong way.

Our debate continued, even up to the very day I quit. We were at lunch, and between mouthfuls of falafel, I asked Steph what she thought. Stay or go? Surely after a week of feeling bad for myself, mostly for how childish I was being, I believed I had gained enough perspective to genuinely offer my support for what Steph needed. It would be fair to say I felt agnostic about the decision at this point. Not because I felt like the best option was unknowable, but because I felt both options were good and I didn’t think it was for me to know which was best at that moment. Needless to say, we worked through our fear and uncertainty and decided to go. We knew that if I quit, that was akin to pulling the trigger once and for all. No take-backs.

So I quit. We committed.

There are a lot of stories out there about following your bliss and finding happiness and all of that, but I think a lot of them fail to mention how hard it can be to do just that. Just how hard it is to leave a sure thing and go jump into a grand adventure, blind, new and all by yourselves. If anyone asks me if they should chase their dreams, I say yes, of course. If anyone asks me if I will chase my dreams, again I say yes, of course. When I ask myself I say what if I trip?

Steph says in a good relationship, part of supporting your partner is also pushing them. Pushing them to be more, to do the things they are afraid to do, pushing them out of their comfort zone. After everything, strangely enough she pushed me to quit. She says I pushed her to commit to our trip, to be willing to jump into the arms of uncertainty and that she needed that push. While she may be right, I’m not sure I pushed in a way that was entirely fair. Change is hard, and to some extent we all resist change, especially those of us who are not accustomed to it.

In the end, we had to overcome a lot of fear and anxiety when it came down to taking the plunge once and for all. It wasn’t easy to quit my job. It wasn’t easy to face the reality of changing our entire life together. At one point Steph asked me how to find the bravery to make the plunge, where I found my courage.

I realized I didn’t feel brave, I felt scared and maybe that was the key.

Bravery is not an absence of fear. In fact, there is no bravery without fear. Bravery is a willingness to accept and feel your fear. Fear is not a curse, and should not be ignored, but not all fear signifies something bad. We fear many things that cannot hurt us, sometimes more than the things that can. If someone wants to march into something extraordinary, either extraordinarily good or bad, I won’t say be fearless – that’s folly. We all feel fear, and it’s not about how much or how little we feel, it’s what we do with our lives and ourselves when we feel it. I don’t know if there is a right or wrong answer, but I do know there is only one way to find out.

Ultimately, I’m not sure that there is much to say that can be applied to a general audience other than this: don’t put the life you want on hold because of your job, or because of fear. I can’t even claim authorship of this piece of wisdom, it’s what my supervisor said to me when I put in my notice. She was frank: she told me that she has moved enough times to know, without doubt, that no matter how much you like (or dislike) your job, ultimately if you know that your life is leading somewhere else, you can’t be afraid to embrace that. There can always be fear and uncertainty when you’re starting a new life with no job, no money (or even lots of money), and no home, but in the end if it’s the life you want, you will make it work and you will always be glad you chased that dream.

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20 comments Leave a comment

  1. This is such a great, honest post.

    I honestly cannot imagine taking the plunge and doing what you’ve done, but I think it’s fantastic.

    This past year was really difficult for me for a number of reasons, and I’ve had to have this talk with myself over and over. My brother is the type who can just move forward blindly, not entirely sure what will happen but willing to trust that *something* will. And it has. He has a great life he is entirely happy with.

    I’m a 5-year-plan kind of gal. Making a major change is absolutely terrifying to me, and I’ll be honest that I have dragged my feet for too long. I’ve begun applying for jobs elsewhere, but part of me has been thinking I just need to move. It’s hard to find a job elsewhere without relocating, and I’m so afraid that by staying and waiting for a phone call, nothing will ever change. And while that is certainly easier, it’s not what I want.

    Thanks so much for sharing this because like you said, it’s easy to make the statement “find your bliss” – it’s much more difficult to actually do it.

    Apr. 29 2012 @ 11:31 pm
    1. jenn aka the picky girl

      Jenn, I am right there with you. You don’t make it to the end of a PhD program without being a ruthless planner, and this is honestly the first time in my life when I don’t actually know with certainty where I’ll be in a year, never mind five! It is really really scary and I battle with the abyss that is the unknown every single day.

      In fighting that fear, I realize my desire to stay put and walk the path I’m on is because it is safe, familiar and easy. Those are solid reasons, but I also realize this familiar path makes me wildly unhappy. I’ve gotten really good at placing little to no importance on my happiness, when really shouldn’t it be the other way around?

      One day, I’ll write a post with all the quotes I turn to when fear paralyzes me and prevents me from moving forward, but for now, believe these words: “Go at it boldly, and you’ll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.” – Basil King

      Apr. 30 2012 @ 12:10 pm
    2. jenn aka the picky girl author

      Jenn, I used to be a lot like your brother too… I was very much a fan of leaving things to work out as they may, and planned very little (not at all, really). I still like to trust things to the fates, so to speak, but Steph has brought a lot of balance to my life, which I appreciate.

      Thanks to Steph, I definitely look ahead more than I used to, and find that an ability to plan within certain boundaries of chaos has really helped make things better. I like to think that I’ve helped Steph worry a little less about the unknown, but it seems like the desire to plan and worry about said plan is a hard one to overcome. Probably just as hard to overcome as being a chronic non-planner. Fortunately, we seem to balance each other out well. I try to tell Steph (and myself) that as long as we are happy, things will be okay, but sometimes that’s a hard pill to swallow, which seems odd but is certainly true.

      I guess the moral of the story is that it’s harder to actually chase your happiness than many people like to claim, but it is worth it, even if everything is on fire, it will be worth it in the long run.

      Thanks for the comment and the compliment!

      Apr. 30 2012 @ 1:05 pm
      1. Tony

        Tony, this was an amazingly courageous post to put out there. To admit that you were scared and handled things in a difficult way is so moving and impacting to me. I admire what you and Steph are doing, and I think it takes quite a lot of bravery to go for it in the way you have. I understand Steph’s concerns, and her reluctance, but I am glad that you found your way, together. I am so looking forward to vicariously joining your journey, and wish you both luck in your wanderings. Keep us updated frequently!

        Apr. 30 2012 @ 5:06 pm
        1. zibilee author

          Thanks so much! I thought it was important that people understand that things like this can be hard, and that you really have to approach them together if you want to succeed.

          May. 3 2012 @ 1:15 pm
  2. Wow, what a honest post. Big kudos to you Tony. First of all, congratulations for doing something that scared you but sticking to it anyway! I am glad to know people out there share my sentiments of this type of journey not being quick and painless. There are a lot of tough bumps along the road. Some people make it sound so easy and maybe it was for them, which is wonderful, but in my reality there are a lot of hard decisions to be made.

    I really appreciated reading your thoughts about taking this leap with a partner and props for recognizing when you were being selfish and when you were being supportive. I’m jumping off alone this time but have done this with a long-term partner in the past where I was the one who wasn’t ready or didn’t have the same wanderlust as he did, and we both refused to compromise and it was a factor in that not working out. Now he’s the one settling down to buy a house and I’m the one traipsing the globe… funny how things work out 🙂 Wish he could have read this post at the time though. Thanks again for a great read.

    Apr. 30 2012 @ 5:35 pm
    1. EM author

      It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it? Five years ago it never would have even occurred to me to consider a trip like this, and now it’s all I can think about. Having the right person (or people) in your life really makes all the difference. I often tell Steph that one of the things I appreciate most about her is how she enabled me to really become the person I wanted to be, but didn’t know I wasn’t. Thanks for the kind words, and we’ll be keeping up with your journey too!

      May. 1 2012 @ 9:09 am
  3. Hi Tony,

    This post resonated deeply inside me. I recently lost my job so I am in the middle of the road not sure of what path to take. The are a lot of possibilities and I am not sure where to start. So I relate to what you wrote in here because I am at not sure what is going to happen. I just know it is the moment to push myself to something better. It may be the time to land in something I have always wanted to do. I am positive everything will work well at the end. Hope your travel plans give you a new perspective of life.

    May. 1 2012 @ 6:38 pm
    1. Ruth (Tanama Tales) author

      Thanks! Steph and I had a conversation about this the other day, the whole “what’s the worst that could happen” scenario. It’s true that our own worst case scenario is rarely actually the worst thing that could happen. Things always work out, though not always the way we expect. It’s rare that our lives really go off the rails completely, and I think it’s really good that you are maintaining some perspective about that. Good luck with your next step, and keep us posted!

      May. 3 2012 @ 1:18 pm
  4. I could not agree with Winterson’s quote more! Or this, “don’t put the life you want on hold because of your job, or because of fear.”

    In fact, my agreement with those statements encompasses the largest part of the reason that I travel. To make that true for myself and to help others see that a better life CAN be possible.

    May. 2 2012 @ 10:44 am
    1. Kirsten author

      It’s good to know that if there is something you want to do, you can go out and do it. Seeing that people do it every day helps a lot. Thanks for reading!

      May. 3 2012 @ 1:20 pm
  5. Congrats on taking the first step – and this nice, honest post. I think it is difficult to quit, but for me even more difficult to stay in a situation that’s unfulfilling. Once you know, to me, it is impossible to go back to or stay in your old mental state.

    May. 2 2012 @ 12:56 pm
    1. Andrea author

      I agree completely! Once I knew I wanted to leave, everything else was pretty much ruined for me. That’s, in large part, why I think I behaved the way I did, because I was having such a hard time coming to grips with the idea that I might have to wait longer for the trip to happen. I think it was fair of me to feel disappointed, but it wasn’t fair of me to make Steph feel responsible for my feelings. Thanks for your thoughts!

      May. 3 2012 @ 1:13 pm
  6. This was a wonderful post Tony, and one that I can so identify with. I have spent the past 18 months working towards my dream of travelling the world indefinitely. I’ve worked 4 jobs, sold most of my stuff, paid off my debt and built up substantial savings in order to realise this dream… and it has definitely not been easy! I have blogged about my journey with brutal honesty and tried my best to share the highs and lows of the process, and everything in between. It has left me forever changed and, despite the hardships, forever grateful to have walked this path. I wish you all the best on your own path and am certain it will lead you to great things 🙂

    May. 4 2012 @ 5:37 pm
    1. Hannah author

      Thanks so much! I’ll be sure to keep up with your journeys as well. It’s good to know that other people have fought through hardships to realize their dreams as well.

      May. 14 2012 @ 1:12 pm
  7. This post just means so much. Currently, we are at a similar (ok, we are not planning to travel the world), but we ARE at some crossroads trying to make a major decision. So, that line about pushing your partner…it resonates so much.

    I love how you have managed to convey the uncertainty and the bravery behind your decisions. I am sure neither you nor Steph will regret this journey.

    Have a great time!

    May. 14 2012 @ 5:53 am
    1. Nishita author

      Thanks! I thought it was important that people know that doing something like this isn’t some cavalier thing we decided to do on a whim, and that doing something like this for themselves is as rewarding as it is difficult.

      May. 14 2012 @ 1:14 pm
  8. RG

    Nice article Tony. Best of everything to you and Steph. …and enjoy the trip. Barb and I hope to hear about all of the adventures someday.

    Jul. 21 2012 @ 4:09 pm
    1. RG author

      No worries, we plan to keep the blog very current and full of pictures! I imagine we’ll be back through Nashville one day, but you are always welcome to come find us wherever we are!

      Jul. 23 2012 @ 3:23 pm

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